White-ball destroyers Gill and Gaikwad make compelling case to be India's T20I opening pair

Tom Moody on Ruturaj Gaikwad: Amazing that India have someone like him in the wings (1:28)

Naman Ojha, meanwhile, lauds Gaikwad's use of "proper cricketing shots" to race to 92 off 50 (1:28)

Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shubman Gill have shades of the old school that cajole you into believing they're best suited for red-ball cricket before they can suddenly flick a switch from within to become white-ball destroyers.

The crowd may have signed up for MS Dhoni, but also ended up getting a scintillating batting show from Gaikwad and Gill as they made a compelling case to be India's T20I opening pair. Gill is already there, having struck the right chords over the past six months, and Gaikwad is well on his way, after a temporary pause because of injury.

Gaikwad's 50-ball 92 left you in awe because of the amount of time he had in picking lengths and putting away deliveries others would simply be happy to keep out. Gill's essay, meanwhile, was ridiculous for the ease with which he got off the blocks and kept purring along like a Ferrari on the fast lane.

Gill looked and batted a million dollars, seemingly extending a purple patch that is now anything but a patch. It's a storm of runs that have made him India's undisputed first-choice opener across formats. He brings the visceral thrill that can win anybody over, except perhaps the bowlers who are often left pulling their hair out.

Gaikwad was a like boxer, jabbing and punching deliveries that would be perfectly acceptable to defend. When Hardik Pandya bowled a length ball into Gaikwad's body, seemingly to try and tuck him up, the batter responded by immediately using the crease and his malleable wrists to bisect midwicket and mid-on as the ball sailed over.

When Hardik hit the hard length on a fourth-stump line, hoping to have Gaikwad nicking, he used his height to get onto the toes and uncork his wrists to punch the ball between cover and point. These two shots within the first two overs had Gaikwad up and running.

One second, he was sitting back and pulling deliveries aimed at his rib cage over deep backward square leg. Next moment, he was throwing his fast hands at drivable deliveries and picking gaps at will. It had the bowlers scratching their heads. Alzarri Joseph certainly did after his opening over.

Hardik Pandya: Ruturaj Gaikwad 'has the game to do wonders for Indian cricket'

Gujarat Titans' captain looks back at the IPL 2023 tournament opener

Joseph is a master of the hard lengths. He can hustle you with pace but had to quickly readjust because Gaikwad wasn't in the mood to relent. When Joseph targeted the good-length area, he was flicked over midwicket. When he went short of length, he was whipped off the hips with nonchalance over deep backward square. The result was three sixes in his first over to deliver a stunning 23-ball half-century for Gaikwad.

The other facet to his batting, and he briefly touched upon it during an unreal domestic white-ball season, is the ability to zone out between deliveries. Surely, you can't play the perfect inside-out shot on the up over extra cover for six only to be told that's not counted because the ball has hit spider cam, and then do the same next ball to the same bowler for a bigger six without intending to hit it in anger?

It came with an unwritten warning for the other: 'Do not try this.' Unfortunately for Chennai Super Kings, every other batter did and failed, something MS Dhoni alluded to later. "We tried to muscle the ball," he said at the post-match presentation. "Proper batting and trying to use the pace and hitting would've been good."

The "proper batting" but was a reference to Gaikwad's game that Dhoni has had a ringside view of over the past three years. This is a batter who is far from the diffident version when he began his IPL career with a wretched 0,5 and 0 in 2020. More than the scores, he seemed consumed in the mind. When he was struck down by Covid soon after, you felt his chance may have come and gone. But that's not the Super Kings way. Gaikwad duly got a chance to win back the team's confidence and he has repaid the confidence.

"Ruturaj, when he gets going, he's a pleasure to watch," Dhoni said. "Because he times the ball really well, uses the pace of the bowler and makes the right decisions. Under pressure, it's all about making the right decisions. Over the years, the way he has groomed himself and the way he picks his options, especially when he gets going, he's very pleasing on the eye."

If Gaikwad was pleasing on the eye, Gill was a step ahead for the sheer magnificence with which he hit good deliveries to different corners of the ground.

Like that sashay down the pitch to a Ravindra Jadeja dart, and then in a split-second decided he was going through with the lofted hit over cover even though he wasn't entirely to the pitch of the delivery. Equally stunning was his ability to use the depth of the crease and bring his wrists into play in picking Tushar Deshpande's attempted yorker with a helicopter-like shot over deep midwicket. In both cases, it's refreshing clarity that made the shots possible.

With shots like that, there can be a bit of theatrics involved, especially with an exaggerated follow-through that batters like Dhoni or Rashid Khan bring. With Gill, there was none of that. Just all grace and jaw-dropping awe.

Last year, Gill played some unreal shots, only to go into his shell at other times, seemingly in a bid to bat long and deliver consistency. It's perhaps a sign of his own maturity and a better understanding of his game that Gill has been able to break shackles that didn't perhaps exist in his path to being that all-round batter everyone hoped he would be. The fruits of that hard work - much of which he deserves credit, more than anyone - are being realised now.

If Gaikwad reached his fifty off 23, Gill got there off 30. But it wasn't any less an innings in terms of aesthetics. If you watched both of them on split-screen, it would be incredibly hard to decide which one was more pleasing. But if you simply sat back and relished it, without letting preconceived notions come in your way, like Gaikwad and Gill didn't, you would have walked away feeling a million dollars, like the Ahmedabad faithful did.